The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a grant totaling $11.8 million over five years to Illinois Institute of Technology to test a groundbreaking intra-cortical visual prosthesis (ICVP) system. The Illinois Tech research team includes principal investigator Philip Troyk, associate dean of Armour College of Engineering and professor of biomedical engineering, and Frank Lane, associate proefssor of psychology (pictured to the right).
Under the NIH funding, Illinois Tech will evaluate the feasibility of the first chronically implantable intra-cortical visual prosthesis system during a five-year clinical trial. The system is designed to produce visual percepts to an individual who is totally blind by wireless stimulation the visual cortex. A total of five participants who have blindness will be implanted with the system at the University of Chicago.
The number of Americans with vision loss is rising rapidly. There is currently no cure for blindness, and an artificial vision system may be the best alternative form of treatment. Since many individuals affected by total blindness do not have intact retinas or optic nerves, but retain the visual cortex, the areas of the brain that allow us to see, an intra-cortical visual prosthesis may be the only possible advanced visual sensory aid from which they could benefit.
The ICVP system uses a collection of wireless simulator modules that each contains 16 microelectrodes and associated electronics. These modules bypass the eyes and optic nerves and directly stimulate the visual cortex. Each electrode can be commanded to inject stimulus currents into the cortex over a fully wireless magnetic link to produce visual perception within the brain.
Lane joined the ICVP research project in 2008. To prepare for this NIH proposal, Lane collected data from 43 interviews and 14 focus groups of individuals with blindness. The data collected and analyzed from the interviews led to an understanding of the motivations, expectations, adjustment issues and decision-making processes of prospective candidates for the artificial vision system.
Going forward, Lane’s role on the project is to provide education to individuals with blindness in the Chicagoland area and to advertise, recruit and screen prospective participants to identify five who will be implanted at the University of Chicago. The project also involved researchers from the University of Chicago; Johns Hopkins University; University of Texas at Dallas; Sigenics, Inc.; MicroProbes for Life Science, Inc.; and The Chicago Lighthouse.